Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters #20booksofsummer

Book 6

Little Stranger
Historical Fiction 4*s

It is so difficult to fit this book into anyone genre. It could be historical, being set just after World War Two in post-war Britain but it has far stronger elements of the supernatural than I would contemplate if it were other author, and there is a bit of the psychology of the characters to boot.

Dr Faraday first visits Hundreds Hall in rural Warwickshire as a young boy where he accompanied his mother to the elegant mansion. We first meet him though when he returns as a General Practioner to visit a young servant girl who is laid up in bed who mentions something strange which Dr Faraday swiftly dismisses. However, it isn’t long before he becomes a more frequent visitor over time when he becomes bewitched by the household, and by Hundreds Hall itself.

The wonderful storytelling is enacted through the eyes of this disappointed middle-aged GP, Dr Faraday, who has got to the stage in life where he wonders quite how everything has passed him by. He still lives in cramped rooms, never having the means or the need to invest in anything more. He has his close friends which are married but little else, beyond his work to fill the hours of his day but a family of his own has eluded him.

Normally I am very anti anything supernatural in a book, something I wonder if Sarah Waters was aware of, because although this is for those who want it to be, a ghost story, it can almost be read as a series of events which it is perhaps easiest to blame on the supernatural. Well that’s my justification for enjoying this book quite as much as I did – the rest of you can all enjoy a super scary ghost story to frighten the bejeebers out of you!

The household consists of the elderly Mrs Ayers, her son Roderick who has recently returned from the war and her daughter, the spinsterish Caroline. It is clear from the outset that this is a household who have fallen upon hard times. The Hall is much diminished since the days when Dr Faraday’s had that childhood visit, the retinue of staff have fallen away leaving just a housemaid Betty and Mrs Rush, the daily woman. With many of the rooms locked up those that remain in use are literally disintegrating around the family, with wallpaper peeling and the rain finding holes to drip through the roof. Ultimately this is a character driven novel, set at a particular point in history and the tale that unfolds is disturbing in the extreme as small events become more frequent causing disquiet to spread to every nook and cranny of Hundreds Hall

As is her trademark the lives of all involved in this tale are detailed to the minutest degree, the only author I know who can make each action, gesture and speech add something to the story when put into the hands of many, would promote a grumble about filling rather than substance from me. Instead this author makes these small details add something, not only in terms of raising the tension, but telling us more than would appear about each one of the story-dwellers. The tension she promotes raises steadily right until the end, an ending that I didn’t suspect, but now I’ve read it was most fitting.

Whilst this isn’t my favourite of this author’s books, there was so much to enjoy in all those little details, although I was glad to be reading it in the bright sunshine, rather than on a gloomy winter’s evening.


Publication Date UK: 28 May 2009
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group
No of Pages: 499
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

23 thoughts on “The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters #20booksofsummer

  1. An excellent review of a very unsettling novel. It’s been quite a few years since I read it but your post brings the core of the story rushing right back. I agree with your comments about the possibility of reading it in different ways (or an various levels) especially when it comes to the supernatural elements…I wonder what lovers of writers such as M.R. James made of it.


  2. I’ve read all of Sarah Waters’ novels and this is the one that sticks in my mind the least – I can barely remember it! I don’t know if that means its her weakest for me, or if its something to do with when I read it. Probably I should re-read it – as you say, even if it’s not Waters at her best, there’s still plenty to enjoy 🙂


    1. This was a re-read for me too as I read it when it was originally published but I remembered little and I think over the years I’ve appreciated the detail in her writing more than I used to. My next re-read of this author is Fingersmith which I do remember more of.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this novel recently and really enjoyed it too. I think the supernatural elements worked well and I liked that the end of the story kept you think and trying to work out what on earth had been going on! The only other Waters novel I’ve read is The Paying Guests, but I really do want to read more by her.


  4. I do like historical novels, Cleo. And if my experience with Waters’ other work is anything to go by, she did a fine job making the story feel authentic. I’m absolutely not one at all for the supernatural, but it’s interesting that she wove that through this novel, too. Glad you enjoyed it.


  5. This isn’t my favourite of her books either, but I did find much to appreciate and enjoy as I read. I think that her earlier books had a little more warmth and emotion, and maybe that’s why they have stayed in my mind much more than this one.


    1. I have read this one before but didn’t remember an awful lot about it and I’m split, I love the earliest books but my favourites are The Night Watch from 2006 and her most recent, The Paying Guests. As you say though, no matter the book, Sarah Waters always provides plenty to enjoy.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I read and loved The Paying Guests, and have been eyeing this one for a while. I like how you framed the “paranormal” elements, which would make them more easily accepted by me, too. Also, I like how you described the author’s way of writing details which “add something,” a talent I enjoy in a writer. I have some other favorites who do that. The ordinary becomes extraordinary.

    Thanks for sharing…and now I think I must read this one.


    1. Laurel I’m glad you appreciated the way I chose to read the paranormal elements – they just aren’t for me and so I appreciate an author that gives me wriggle room. I love Sarah Waters writing and my favourites are The Paying Guests and The Night Watch which is a marvel for its construction alone!


  7. I haven’t read a lot of Waters but I adore the supernatural in fiction. I liked the ambiguousness of these events – how we are left wondering if they are supernatural or psychological in nature & origin. And I loved the depiction of crumbling British aristocracy and class distinctions in this era; the desperate struggle to maintain standards of a bygone time, the genteel poverty, the house disintegrating around them. This book gripped me from start to finish.


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